Missouri lobbyist vs. Federalist Society: AG rivals building 2024 campaign war chests

Former Greitens aide Will Scharf raised four times as much money in December as Attorney General Andrew Bailey

By: - January 31, 2023 5:55 am

Will Scharf, left, and Attorney General Andrew Bailey (photos submitted).

In the likely 2024 GOP showdown for the Missouri attorney general’s office, the fundraising race has already begun. 

Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who was appointed to the office when his predecessor was elected to the U.S. Senate, began raising money through an independent political action committee even before officially launching his campaign last week

Will Scharf, a former assistant U.S. attorney and policy director in Gov. Eric Greitens’ brief administration, started raising money in November and is expected to officially announce his bid for attorney general Tuesday evening.

With other potential candidates waiting in the wings, Bailey and Scharf are wasting no time building campaign war chests. And so far, Scharf has a massive fundraising advantage. 

Bailey is getting fundraising help from Steve Tilley, a former speaker of the Missouri House and lobbyist who held a fundraiser for the attorney general last month at a hangar his lobbying firm co-owns at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield. 

A candidate committee for Bailey wasn’t formed until last week, so the money raised at the fundraiser went to Liberty and Justice PAC, a committee connected to Tilley that was created in November.  

It reported raising $72,000 at the fundraiser, with most of the money coming from Tilley’s clients or a constellation of PACs funded by Tilley’s clients. 

Meanwhile, Scharf reported raising nearly $300,000  in December. Though he hasn’t said he’s officially running for attorney general, Scharf bragged in his release that the total was a “quarterly fundraising record for an attorney general candidate.”

In January, Scharf chipped in $500,000 of his own money into his statewide campaign. 

Among Scharf’s donors is Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the conservative legal organization The Federalist Society who, according to The New York Times, controls more than $1.6 billion in conservative donor funds.

Leo is considered one of the main architects of conservatives’ efforts to reshape the American judicial system, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Help from Steve Tilley

Tilley helping Bailey is no surprise.  He has in recent years become a formidable fundraiser for Missouri politicians, despite more than a decade of rumblings about FBI scrutiny of his activities. No charges have ever been filed in any matter involving Tilley, and he has long denied any wrongdoing.

His fundraising prowess relies on a unique setup, where his lobbying clients funnel money into one of a handful of political action committees, which in turn distribute checks to candidates. 

Six Tilley-connected PACs wrote $5,000 checks to Liberty and Justice PAC in December. All but one is based in Tilley’s hometown of Perryville, and four share the same P.O. Box address. 

Andrew Bailey begins fundraising for Missouri AG campaign with help from lobbyist

MO Majority PAC was founded in 2015 with a $560,000 contribution from Tilley’s now defunct campaign committee. 

Missouri Growth PAC’s president and treasurer is Tilley’s father. 

Missouri C PAC, Missouri Senior PAC, Missouri AG PAC and Missouri Shield PAC were either organized or are run by John Burcham, a former employee of Tilley’s lobbying firm, or his father, Tom. 

Tom Burcham is a longtime friend of Tilley’s and was involved in his first public brush with FBI scrutiny back in 2009. While Tilley was serving as majority leader of the Missouri House, the FBI questioned lawmakers about his role in blocking legislation that would have undercut lawsuits filed by Burcham. 

Brittany Robbins, communications director for Tilley’s company, Strategic Capitol Consulting, said in an email to The Independent that each of the PACs that donated to help Bailey are independent of the lobbying firm. 

“We make recommendations,” Robbins said, “but we do not have control over final decisions.”

In addition to the $30,000 from the six Tilley-connected PACs, Bailey also got a little over $10,000 in December from Tilley clients.

That includes $1,000 from Warrenton Oil, which sued the state in 2021 in order to stop a crackdown on so-called gray market slot machines in its convenience stores. The Missouri attorney general’s office is defending the state in Warrenton Oil’s lawsuit, which was filed in conjunction with the company that owns the slot machines, Torch Electronics. 

Last summer, Warrenton Oil cut a series of $15,000 checks to MO Majority PAC, Missouri Growth PAC, Missouri C PAC, Missouri Senior PAC and Missouri AG PAC, totaling $75,000. Torch Electronics donated $40,000 to each PAC during that time, totaling $200,000.

Former Attorney General Eric Schmitt returned political donations he received in 2021 from the owner of Torch Electronics after criticism that, because of the ongoing litigation, they could be a conflict of interest.

But the Schmitt donations were to his campaign committee. Warrenton Oil’s $1,000 check went to Liberty and Justice PAC, which is an independent spending committee that Bailey can coordinate with to raise money but can’t control. 

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office directed questions to Bailey’s campaign, which did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

‘Friend and mentor’

In addition to his own money, Scharf is getting support from some of his former colleagues in the Greitens administration. 

Scharf served as policy director in the governor’s office for the 17 months Greitens served before being forced to resign to avoid impeachment and settle felony charges in June 2018.

Austin Chambers, Greitens’ former campaign manager, donated $2,650 to Scharf. So did Nick Maddux, Greitens’s former deputy chief of staff who now works for the political consulting firm helping run Scharf’s campaign. 

Other big donors who aren’t tied to Greitens include West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer.

Former aide to Greitens plans bid for Missouri office in 2024

But the donation getting the most attention is the $2,650 check from Leo. 

Scharf has been active in The Federalist Society for years, and worked on the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. He told the Post-Dispatch that Leo is “a dear friend and mentor.” 

Leo has been credited with helping lead efforts to put conservative judges on the bench, and has quietly built a sprawling political network fueled by millions in anonymous dollars. He was the beneficiary of the largest known political donation in U.S. history, when industrialist Barre Seid seeded a nonprofit run by Leo with $1.6 billion. 

According to The New York Times, Leo has helped marshal half a billion dollars in resources over the last decade to bankroll legal, policy and political fights around the country over issues ranging from critical race theory to transgender rights to election law. 

“I have never run for political office before,” Scharf said in a press release announcing his quarterly fundraising total. “I am humbled by the support that we have received so far, and I am deeply grateful to those who have stepped up to support our bid for statewide office,” Scharf said.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.